No frequent reader of this space will be surprised to learn that I’m an NPR member. Our public media network is the last place in America where thoughtful, reasoned coverage of current events still prevails over hysteria and politainment; where Charlie Rose still gets more attention than Charlie Sheen. Does it lean left? Generally, though not always. Does the bias matter? I’d rather spend my time with a bearded Marxist willing to think and listen than pump my head full of ideologically correct paranoia.
So why shouldn’t tax money support it? That’s the wrong question to ask.
For eighty years we’ve been borrowing money collectively to fund just about anything someone thinks is a good idea. Now that our debt is as large as our economy we have little choice but to change the way we think about the role of government.
Instead of asking whether a particular program is valuable we need to be asking why federal tax money, appropriated from everyone under a legal obligation, is the only way to fund it. And beyond that question, Is this a core function of government? Can private activity can deliver it? And can we find a way to live without it? NPR fails every one of those standards.
Is the journalism that they provide so critical to our freedom and prosperity that it should be considered infrastructure, like roads and schools? We’re already learning to live without responsible, unbiased mass journalism. NPR hasn’t stopped this slide and we will survive.
And NPR itself will survive the loss of federal funding with little impact. In truth it doesn’t need it. When the funds are cut off I’ll give them more money and others will step up also. It’s valuable to me and I will pay for it. People who do not value it will no longer have to pay for it.
There might be public radio stations in smaller markets that will have to close without federal funding and that’s unfortunate. It might give religious broadcasters a modest leg up in their long rivalry with NPR over the public spectrum. So it goes.
I’m aware that NPR’s funding will not make in impact of the deficit by itself, but it’s not the amount of any one expense that really matters in this scenario. Our problem is not so much that we can’t pay for these programs. We could just raise taxes, of course. The problem is that we have to learn to stop somewhere, and so far we have not discovered a way to rein in the growth of the federal government – ever. Not even Reagan did it. We can’t just raise taxes forever just like we can’t simply cut taxes forever. At some point we have to say “no” to something valuable in order to preserve our financial health.
Cutting funding for NPR will not balance the budget. Learning the political capability to stop funding NPR will help us balance the budget. You know, ‘teach a man to fish…’ And from there we can go on to sell off the Postal Service ($7bn this year plus pension liabilities @$50bn and climbing), privatize NASA and convert it into a clearinghouse for private grants like the NSF, end funding for Planned Parenthood (how on Earth have they preserved funding for this long?), stop buying endless billions of dollars in military equipment the military doesn’t want, but Congressmen do, and so on and so on.
Once we have developed a demonstrated capacity to trim government, it may be easier to debate ways to protect Social Security or deal with healthcare costs. If the threat of endless, mindless, unstoppable government expansion can be tamed, maybe we will find it easier to use government where we genuinely need it.
If we want to preserve any hope of protecting the truly critical public functions, from courts to infrastructure to the social safety net, we have to live with a leaner, more nimble government. We’ll have to embrace more privatization, fewer extraneous functions, and tighter scrutiny of any new spending.
Everything we cut will affect someone. This is gonna hurt, but it’s for our own good.
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